Game Review – PHI 27, NYG 24

Posted: September 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 92 Comments »

The Kick.

I’ve followed the Eagles for a long time and I’ve seen some amazing things, especially with the Giants on the other side of the field. Seeing rookie Jake Elliott, an injury replacement in just his second game with the Eagles, nail a 61-yard field goal to beat the Giants goes right up near the top of craziest finishes.

David Akers, the best kicker in franchise history, had a long field goal of 57 yards. Elliott’s kick wasn’t just longer than that, it won the game. A rivalry game. That makes Elliott’s kick all the more impressive.

The Eagles were the better team on Sunday and that showed as they led 14-0 going into the 4th quarter. Then Eli Manning got hot. Odell Beckham remembered he was an elite player. And the Eagles helped out by making some critical mistakes, highlighted by a Zach Ertz fumble. Next thing you know…21-14 with the Giants on top.

I was worried the team might fold when they found themselves suddenly trailing in the game. Confidence can be a fragile thing and the Giants had wiped out a 14-0 deficit in the blink of an eye. The Eagles let the game in KC get away from them, but they didn’t repeat that mistake. They started making plays and tied the game back up, before going on to win. The Eagles finished the game on a 13-3 run.

It wasn’t pretty, but missing Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, Caleb Sturgis and Corey Graham is not the easiest thing to overcome. The Eagles found a way to win. When you’re missing that much firepower, results are far more important than style points.

COACHING

The hot topic is Doug Pederson going for it on 4th downs. I covered that here.

Give Pederson credit for going for the win on that final drive. He could have taken a knee or tried throwing a Hail Mary. Instead, the Eagles executed a play they had practiced on Friday. They expected it to take 5 to 6 seconds. It took 6, which was fine with :07 on the clock at the snap of the ball. That gave them a chance to hit a miracle FG.

The coaches got the run game going in a variety of ways. They made a lineup change at LG. They mixed in multiples schemes and also used RPOs effectively. The coaches got LeGarrette Blount fired up and then fed him the ball.

The defensive strategy was to play off and then tackle. With the exception of one huge pass play, the strategy worked pretty well. The Giants were forced to play small ball and put together long, methodical drives. The Eagles kept them out of the end zone until the 4th quarter.

PLAYERS

Carson Wentz protected the ball and that was a huge part of the Eagles winning. He threw 3 picks against the Giants last year. He didn’t turn the ball over at all on Sunday. His stats weren’t compelling (21-31-176 with a TD). Wentz had some great moments in the game. His pass to Jeffery to set up the FG wasn’t an easy throw. Wentz took a chance on his guy being able to make a play. His TD throw to Ertz was impressive. That ball went through traffic and was on the money. Wentz had a key scramble on the first TD drive. He moved the chains to keep the drive alive. There were a pair of QB sneaks that each kept alive scoring drives. Wentz isn’t as dynamic as Michael Vick as a runner, but his legs are becoming a valuable weapon.

There were some problems as well. Wentz took a sack on 4th and 8. Argue the call if you want, but the one thing you can’t do is take a sack. Even worse, he had two receivers open on the play and failed to pull the trigger. There was a RZ pass play where Wentz locked on to Agholor out wide and the underneath receiver looked to be wide open. Deep accuracy continues to be an issue. Wentz missed a wide open Jeffery on what should have been an easy 50-yard TD. He threw two other deep balls that led to PI calls. One was a pretty good throw. The other one was borderline uncatchable. The refs called the penalty and that helped the drive in a big way.

The Giants have some talented CBs and good pass rushers so moving the ball on them isn’t easy. Wentz made key plays and helped the Eagles go 3-3 in the RZ.

RB

Welcome to Philly, LeGarrette Blount. He had 14 carries in the opener and then barely played in KC. If the coaches were sending him a message, it worked. Blount came out and ran his butt off. He attacked the line of scrimmage and the guys in the blue helmets. They had him for no gain or a loss a few times, but he fought through for gains. Blount ran with real purpose. He was 12-67-1 for the game. This was the guy the Eagles expected when they signed him.

Darren Sproles broke his arm and tore his ACL on a run and he’s done for the year. That opened the door for Wendell Smallwood to play more. He was 12-71 on the ground and had some impressive runs. He showed good burst on a couple of plays. There were other runs where he showed real strength and toughness. There was a run near the goal line where he had to twist and turn and really battle to get a first down. Smallwood caught one pass and had some very good pass blocks. he took out the legs of a blitzer on one play and that let Wentz get wide to complete a pass.    Read the rest of this entry »


We Don’t Know

Posted: September 28th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 122 Comments »

Are the Eagles a good team?

We don’t know. They’re off to a 2-1 start and look like they are the most complete team in the NFC East so far, but they have hardly been great. If not for some huge Red Zone stops, the team could be 1-2 or even 0-3. But the Eagles did make those plays and they’re 2-1.

We’ve got a lot to learn about this team. The offense looks explosive, but also highly erratic. They scored 14 points in 3 quarters on Sunday, but then added 13 points in the final few minutes to finish the game with 27 and a W.

The defense has been absolutely dominant for parts of all three games, but right now they are 20th in points allowed and 21st in yards allowed. There is a non-offensive TD from the Skins game that affects the scoring defense and injuries hurt them the last two weeks, but the defense still needs to get better. They are too talented to be down in the 20’s in those rankings.

Think about players.

LeGarrette Blount struggled in the opener and was essentially benched for Week 2. That seemed to get his attention and he ran like a madman against the Giants. He attacked the line of scrimmage and never went down on first contact. That was the player the team envisioned when they signed him in the offseason. Now the question is which Blount will show up this week. Will we see the sluggish guy from the opener or the hammer from Sunday?

Alshon Jeffery is on pace for a 75-992-5 season. That’s solid, but not compelling. He’s been up and down this year. He made the huge catch on Sunday to set up the winning kick, but also had a couple of costly penalties. He hasn’t stood out the way you might expect a stud receiver to. But not all of that is on him. Jeffery was wide open for a long TD and Carson Wentz just missed him. The connection between Wentz and Jeffery is awkward right now. The two of them don’t have great chemistry. That should come with time.

I say “should” because there are no guarantees. Just because Jeffery is a good WR and Wentz is a good QB doesn’t mean they’ll develop a special chemistry. It certainly happened with Donovan McNabb and TO, but there are plenty of other instances where a free agent marriage didn’t work out. We don’t know what will happen.

It takes time for a team to show who they truly are. The Eagles looked great last September and turned out to be the very definition of mediocrity. The grind of the long NFL season will expose who you are as a team and as a player.

I feel pretty encouraged by what I’ve seen from the Eagles so far. This team has found a way to win games despite things not going smoothly. When everything is clicking, you can see just how good a team is. But teams that fight through adversity show a mental, physical and emotional toughness that can be hugely valuable over the course of a season.

The Eagles could have easily folded after giving up 21 straight points on Sunday. The Chiefs hit them with a barrage of late game points the week before. That had to be in the back of their minds (if not the front). Instead, the Eagles started making some key plays and found a way to win.

Remember that when the team got down 27-13 the week before, they didn’t quit. They scored a late TD, recovered the onside kick and had a chance to tie the game on the final play. That result wasn’t good, but maybe the experience of going through that served them well on Sunday when they responded better to suddenly being behind in the 4th quarter.

We’ve got a lot of season left and a lot to learn. Not everything is going to turn out like we hope, but so far we’ve seen more good than bad and that’s certainly encouraging for the long haul.

_


Dangerous Doug

Posted: September 27th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 199 Comments »

Coach, who is going to be the left guard this week?

“We prepare all our guys to be starters.”

It looked like Wiz played pretty well. Talk about him as the possible starter.

“Yeah, Wiz did some great things. So did Chance. And Isaac too, even though he didn’t play. Still a great game.”

We get that you like all three, but don’t you have to choose one?

“Who says anyone has to start? Maybe we go with no left guard. Our analytics people say that 18 percent of the time the left guard has no impact on the play whatsoever. Then again, maybe I’ll start all three at left guard. What would you call that? 11 personnel is one running back and one tight end. Maybe we’ll call that 900 personnel since you have three 300 pound guys at one spot.”

You don’t think naming one starter is important for chemistry?

“Guys, listen…I’m not going to announce our plans to the Chargers. Let’s move on.”

Doug Pederson is in his second year as coach. He’s trying to figure out who he is. We’re trying to figure out who he is. When he tries to be coy about who will start in a given week, he’s stealing from the Bill Belichick playbook. The way he praises players and always takes the blame is pure Andy Reid. The way he relates to players as the likable uncle more than the traditional boss or father figure comes across as a bit of Pete Carroll.

What about going for it on 4th downs?

That is Chip Kelly, the Oregon version. Or Hal Mumme, for those of you who are serious football fans. Pederson is an aggressive playcaller. We see that with how often he wants to go deep. It is driving him crazy that his star QB and the improved receiving corps can’t connect right now. Pederson wants those chunk plays. He wants a 50-yard TD pass more than I want to be stranded on Pudding Island with Megan Fox.

The deep balls aren’t working yet, but Pederson keeps calling them and that’s not going to stop. He played behind Dan Marino and Brett Favre. He knows the value of the bomb.

Pederson is aggressive with going for it on 4th down. This is a good thing, even if there are going to be some bad moments. Too many coaches have the mindset that more games are lost than won, meaning the team that avoids mistakes is most likely to win. That is true to a certain extent, but you can’t play with that mentality. You have to play to win, to borrow a line from the great Herm Edwards.

Think about onside kicks. When they are random, the success rate is close to 50 percent. When teams know they’re coming, that goes down substantially. You can’t wait until you’re desperate to take chances. You can’t wait until things are safe. A fake punt at the opponents 40-yard line isn’t going to be as effective as one at your 20-yard line.

Of course, Doug would go for it on their 40, so I guess any fake punt discussion is irrelevant.

I wasn’t a huge fan of going for it on 4th and 8 on Sunday, but I would rather have a coach that is too aggressive than one who is too conservative. Part of the thinking there is to establish a mentality in your team that you expect to convert on 4th down. Going for it on 4th down becomes a weapon rather than a random gamble. A lot of teams look nervous on 4th down. The more you go for it, the more comfortable the players will be.

You do have to accept the fact there will be failures. There are going to be times when you turn the ball over to the other team and they go score points. You don’t get the reward without some of the risk.

Pederson isn’t going to just listen to the numbers from the analytics staff and make a decision purely off that. He has to consider field position, the way his offense is playing, the way his defense is playing, the score of the game, the feel of the game, which players are on the field and several other variables. 4th down decisions have to be a mixture of stats and instincts.

You should be happy that a young coach like Doug without a ton of goodwill built up in his coaching account is willing to take chances.

Ben McAdoo punted from the Eagles 41 and the Eagles 38-yard line. The coach of an 0-2 team on the road had chances to be aggressive and instead punted the ball away to play defense. The Giants dominated the field position battle in the first half and had nothing to show for it.

I would rather have Doug rolling the dice once too often than a coach who was hesitant to roll the dice.

*****

Jimmy Bama also approves of Doug’s aggressive coaching style.

Does Doug approve of Jimmy’s aggressive writing style?

*****

This move actually makes a lot of sense. Barner knows the offense. He has a similar type of skill set to Darren Sproles. Barner also can return punts and KOs.

Barner has always been a guy that flashed when he got to play, but never got many touches.

I re-watched the 2016 opener this summer and was surprised to see how much and how well he played in that game. He had 4 carries for 42 yards. He was 8-42 against the Steelers in Week 3. Go back to 2015 and you can see him in action.

Barner has good speed. He isn’t special in any way, but can be an effective part of a good RB rotation.

_


Costly Win

Posted: September 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 201 Comments »

The good news…the Eagles beat the Giants in a thriller on Sunday. The bad news…

Ugh.

Sproles isn’t a starter, but he’s a heck of a lot more than just a role player. He’s special, on STs and offense. Replacing him won’t be easy. You aren’t going to find a PR who can do what he does. You can replace him at RB, but the players aren’t going to be as dangerous in the pass game as he is.

The Eagles haven’t made a move yet. They could add Byron Marshall, who has a similar skill set, but isn’t close in terms of talent. The Eagles may focus on adding a PR more than a RB. We’ll have to wait and see.

What does this mean for Sproles?

Cool. I’d love to see him come back. Let’s not write this in stone, though. Sproles wasn’t sure he wanted to come back next year anyway. Now he’s got surgery and a grueling rehab ahead of him. We’ll see how he feels in a few months.

*****

The player this impacts the most is Wendell Smallwood. He has the ability to run, catch and block. The Eagles have lined him up in the slot to get him 1-on-1 with a LB and then thrown the ball his way. That’s where Sproles is such a mismatch. Smallwood isn’t as good a receiver, but he can be functional in that role.

I think the difference with the offense won’t be the playbook, but rather how many plays get called for the RBs. You want to make sure Sproles gets 10 to 12 touches a game. Just because Smallwood can fill his role on offense doesn’t mean you want him to get the ball as much. He may end up with those touches, but it won’t be by specific design. If Smallwood is open on a given play, you throw the ball his way. If he’s running well, you feed him. You just don’t think of him as a go-to guy right now.

*****

Doug Pederson said Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks were “okay”. He called them day to day. We’ll have to wait and see. Pederson was all kinds of weird when it came to talking about injuries last week so take everything he says with a grain of salt for now. We’ll get a better idea of where these guys stand on Wednesday when the players return to practice.

No word on Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham or Jaylen Watkins. Would be great to get them back as well.

*****

A lot of people wanted Mychal Kendricks traded in the offseason (including him). The Eagles weren’t having a fire-sale. They didn’t get good enough offers so they kept him around. You can see the value of that right now. When Hicks got hurt, Kendricks became part of the Nickel defense, playing alongside Nigel Bradham. When the team went to a base defense, Najee Goode was on the field with them. Joe Walker played 3 snaps on defense as well.

Kendricks was in on 7 tackles and broke up 2 passes, one of which was picked off by Patrick Robinson. His strong play from the preseason has carried over to the regular season.

In 2016, Kendricks had 32 total tackles, 3 TFLs, PD, and a FR. In just three games this year, he’s got 14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL and 3 PDs. This performance is helping the team now and will help his trade value in the offseason.

*****

Have you seen this? Just amazing.

_


Clutch

Posted: September 25th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 478 Comments »

Last year the Eagles failed to protect some 4th quarter leads. There were other games when they couldn’t finish off a comeback. The end of the game did not bring out the best in the team.

We saw some of that last week, but Sunday was a very different story. The Eagles were clutch.

They had to be, after turning a 14-0 lead into a 21-14 deficit. The first half of the 4th quarter was bad. Eli Manning was red hot and Odell Beckham remembered he was an elite player. Zach Ertz fumbled the ball away and the Eagles offense hit a wall.

Thankfully the final seven minutes of the game were a different story. The Eagles outscored the Giants 13-3 and made enough clutch plays to win the game. The two biggest plays were the 19-yard pass from Carson Wentz to Alshon Jeffery to put the team in field goal position and then the amazing 61-yard kick by rookie Jake Elliott.

If that pass from Wentz takes one more second or goes one less yard, we’re likely headed to overtime. The kick was a rocket that barely stayed inside the upright, but did and gave the Eagles a wild win. There wasn’t much room for error on those plays. The Eagles executed them flawlessly.

We do have to thank our good friends in blue for helping out a bit. Punter Brad Wing, a former Eagle, had a 28-yard punt that made all of that possible. If he gets off anything other than a shank, the game probably goes to overtime. A couple of penalties on LT Ereck Flowers helped stall the drive that led to the shank. There was a penalty on RG John Jerry that wiped out a 3rd down conversion and forced the Giants to settle for a FG to only put them up 24-21.

Every good comeback involves some help from the other guys. The key is taking advantage of those mistakes, and that’s just what the Eagles did. I would love to tell you that Wentz is now considered a clutch QB and will be good in late game situations from here on out, but we’ll have to wait and see on that. Doing it once is nice, but the best late game QBs did it on a consistent basis.

One of the best things about this game is that the Eagles were missing so many key players. Just think about the fact that the game-winning kick came from a guy who was just added about 10 days ago. The most amazing kick I’ve ever seen an Eagles PK nail came from Johnny ComeLately.

The Eagles defense was hurting in a major way. The best DL, LB and CB were all out of the game. 2 of the 3 cover Safeties were out. Jim Schwartz had to cobble together the best group of players he could and hope they could do just enough to slow down the Giants. The defense was good in the first half, but had to hold on for dear life in the 4th quarter.

This was a huge game. A loss would have made the Giants and Eagles both 1-2. It would have given the Eagles a 2-game losing streak. Instead, the Eagles are 2-1 and tied for the NFC East lead. The Giants are 0-3 and in extreme desperation mode.

Ouch. This is not going to be a fun week for Giants coaches or players.

A loss would have led to a lot of questions and issues in Philly, but the win makes a lot of that go away. This is Philly and there will always be intense scrutiny, but less so after a win over the Giants.

The Eagles need to play better in the coming weeks, but on Sunday they played well enough to win and that’s good enough for now.

_